CFL Safety Rules Are Welcome But Does The Public Care About Concussions?
Football has a problem. Okay, a couple of problems.
Foremost among them is that the game is now being perceived as too violent for people— particularly young people— to play. The revelations about the apparent effect upon the brain of playing the sport, combined with its other attendant miseries to knees, ankles, shoulders and backs, is threatening to turn parents against the sport.
It’s a problem the game shares with hockey and other body-contact sports, but football has been the bull’s eye in the media when it comes to CTE. Despite improvements in equipment and training, the athletes are bigger, stronger, faster. And they can deliver a blow to the head unlike previous generations.
Thats’ why the CFL made a lot of noise this week about reducing the amount of contact players experience in practice. From now on there will be no contact in practice while wearing pads. This follows the abolition of two-a-day practices in training camp.
As well, the league is lengthening the season by a week to allow for more bye weeks for players to recuperate. Gone, with any luck, are two games in five days or three games in twelve days.
Anyone who’s ever played football will know that players will love this. Practice, as a famous player once said, is the price you pay to play the games. Coaches will tolerate these changes, but in their mania for perfection, will lament the lost practice time.
The NFL has done a fair bit to reduce contact in practice and training camp, too. Like all levels of football it’s gotten serious about about head shots, penalizing players who deliberately target the noggin of vulnerable opposing players. Introducing better helmets. That’s the good news.
The bad news is it’s always going to be a violent sport that leaves a lot of broken bodies in its wake. It can’t hide the wagons carting players off the field.
Crucially, the revelation of CTE’s effects on the players is now in the open. Players are fairly warned that taking the money today will cost you down the road. As opposed to the players of the past, they’ll know exactly what’s in store when they strap on the gear.
Yet they’ll still play. Tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands from entry-level to the NFL will chase the madness on the gridiron. Why? Because, as long as the money they earn can make the player and his family— and maybe a posse of pals— rich beyond anyone’s dreams, there will be a lineup of young men willing to play.
Yes, protective parents will hold their kids out of football, direct them to soccer or baseball. School systems may abandon the sport under pressure from the politicians who supply the money. (Understand we are just a short time from someone seeking election by banning football’s dangers.)
But there will be a steady stream of willing bodies anxious for the Friday Night Lights. And TV programmers anxious to show football.
Why do we know this? Because, mixed martial arts. MMA makes football look like the spring prom. In its violent, vicious ethic of combat sport it defies all the warnings about brain trauma. It flips the bird at all the revelations that have emerged there past decade. Yet the UFC has vaulted to respectability with a generation that was brought up by helicopter parenting.
The recent Conor McGregor/ Floyd Mayweather extravaganza solidified MMA by marrying the newcomer to the established combat sport, boxing— another sport that defies all the cautionary tales about damage to athletes. It was hard to know who needed who more: boxing wanting MMA’s audience that has drifted from them, or MMA wanting the glamour and tradition that boxing represents.
They both got something from Mayweather’s win over McGregor.
In the case of McGregor/ Mayweather an estimated 50 million watched the pay-per-view. The message of this new hybrid is that, if people are willing to accept the risks to get rich, people will watch.There’s still a huge audience that says, if the performer is down with it then we are down with it.
There are limits to the blood-sport angle that might finally put people off the sport. That is why the CFL was trying to be a good citizen in minimizing the dangers to players with its new rules. They are to be welcomed and applauded.
Make no mistake, it won’t add one new CFL viewer. Like its Diversity Is Strength campaign, it’s about the CFL looking like a good citizen. No-contact practices are not the Rubicon for the CFL. A player dying on there field might be. But so far, we are apparently not near that point.
Bruce Dowbiggin @dowbboy.is the host of the podcast The Full Count with Bruce Dowbiggin on anticanetwork.com. He’s also a regular contributor three-times-a-week to Sirius XM Canada Talks Ch. 167. A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada's top television sports broadcaster, he is also the best-selling author of seven books. His website is Not The Public Broadcaster (http://www.notthepublicbroadcaster.com)